Saturday, January 25, 2003
In hotel room, sick and resting, and sounding a bit like Barry White.

I don't do sick and resting terribly well.

Discovered today that the fairy-haunted forest of Broceliande, which James Branch Cabell placed in Poictesme, is a real forest, in Brittany.

�That Cabell,� said Guy Delcourt, who told me, �He was very confused.�

And I found myself thinking about Terry Pratchett. Cabell, in one of his crankier essays, written shortly before his death in 1958, stated flatly that no author writes anything original after the age of 40: everything we have to say we write before then, and afterward we just iterate old themes with more skill. Or less skill.

And while I admire Cabell, for many things, that one has always bugged me....

Last summer I was sent a proof copy of Terry�s Night Watch, and because there�s always too much going on, and because I hate reading when anything feels even faintly like an obligation, it took me ages to actually get around to reading it. But I packed it for this trip and read it yesterday. It�s a Terry Pratchett novel, but one that�s moved up to the next level. I can understand why Michael Dirda, in his review of it, compared Terry to Chaucer for the sheer relentless humanity going on between the pages.

Will probably reread it within the next few weeks in order to examine the nuts and bolts of the thing.

It was an absolute pleasure to read, and it is, make no mistake, a real novel. It was written, I kept thinking, by the Terry Pratchett who made me buy Joseph Wambaugh books when we were touring America. Interestingly, it�s not a comic novel, and it�s not a satire: the humour, where it appears, is practically all in the craftsmanship of the writing and the human observation, not in the gags. It�s a really good, fairly dark book about what makes people do the right thing, what revolutions are, what cops do, all that sort of stuff. Death means something very final in Night Watch (and Death as a character, as a result, is barely in it, which is as it should be in this kind of book.)

And if in theme and characters it hearkens back to what Terry did in the previous twenty-whatever Discworld books, and what we did together in Good Omens, it�s still moved on. Between Maurice and Night Watch, it�s obvious that Terry�s discovered engines he did not previously use. It leaves me wondering where he's going to go next.

"That Cabell. He was very confused."